AMES, Iowa – Football didn't seem to matter much Friday morning, when we all learned that another plane crash had pierced the soul of a school and all the thousands who care so much about it.
But by Friday night, we knew that wasn't true.
The second-ranked Cowboys played a game with heavy hearts and heavy responsibility. OSU suddenly needed to beat Iowa State not for bowl or poll reasons, not for Bedlam posturing, not for Brandon Weeden's Heisman campaign, but to bring a sliver of light into a very dark day.
It didn't happen. The Cyclones stunned the Cowboys 37-31 in double overtime at Jack Trice Stadium. It's a day that will live forever in both schools' memories.
At Iowa State, for the historic upset, ISU's first win ever over a team ranked in the top six nationally. At OSU, for the deaths of women's basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant Miranda Serna.
Weeden called it “one of the hardest days in Oklahoma State history.”
At the team breakfast Friday at the Des Moines Marriott, televisions were tuned to ESPN, which suddenly went live to the Stillwater press conference. The room fell silent.
“For me to say it wasn't a strange day would be kind of leading everybody astray,” Mike Gundy said. “It was a surreal day.
“But this team has handled a lot of different situations. We just didn't play well.”
Good for Gundy. No excuses. OSU lost because its high-powered offense sputtered far too many times, and the defense finally broke at the end.
Still, it was a hard day. These Cowboys might not have been tight with Kurt Budke, they are tight with his players. That's the kind of school OSU has.
“This morning was really tough,” Weeden said. “Guys were in the dumps a little bit.”
That's why this football game was so important. Athletes weren't the only ones down in the dumps. Everyone associated with OSU felt the same way.
Which is why we call on sports. Ballgames so often offer a diversion from reality. Usually the humdrum, but sometimes the horror.
A victory over Iowa State would have offered a little respite. Not to the Budke or Serna families. But to a fan base and a school that must feel under siege after yet another plane crashed claimed the lives of good people.
In a weird way, the tragedy offers respite to the football side.
The perfect season is gone. Big Bowl hopes are gone. Weeden's Heisman campaign is gone.
That would have qualified as disaster before a single-engine plane crashed into the Arkansas hills. Now, it's merely disappointing.
“The plane crash, for the families of the people involved, is just tragic,” Gundy said. “So much more important than this game. When you lose people…”
Weeden said the players took on the mindset of winning for the victims, and while Gundy said he doesn't much believe in that, “One thing I can guarantee you, these guys wanted to go out and play the best they could. It just didn't come out in their favor tonight.”
A tipped pass here, a tackle there. A field goal. A first down. Lots of things could have brought that sliver of light.
But no matter the final score, Friday would have remained one of the darkest days in OSU history.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.